By Pooja Harish
The last time I peddled was 25 years ago, in school! I seriously wasn’t sure if I could even maintain my balance when one day ‘Vinay Sir’ said that we would cycle on the ring road. Vinay Singh of ‘Royal Ryders Mysore’ is an adventurist, fitness trainer and motivator.
Harish, my hubby and I started cycling as a means to fitness. Our initial rides would be on the ring road and the Chamundi Hill. Gradually over the weeks, we increased to 80-100 kms. We, along with other enthusiasts led by Vinay Singh, would on weekends go to different locations in and around Mysuru. Our city is an ideal place for amateur cyclists having many scenic routes and destinations within 100 kms distance. Soon we realised cycling is the road to good health and a way to get in shape! Camaraderie and the excellent team spirit was a bonus.
Soon the pandemic hit and the lockdown gave us opportunities to take up more challenging routes. First of such was a 200 kms straight stretch to Chikkamagaluru, which then seemed daunting. Our enthusiasm to finish it helped us despite the sun, rain, headwind, traffic, bad roads, body aches and pains. But it wasn’t the end, the next day our team leader Vinay cajoled, motivated and pushed us to peddle to Datta Peetha (Baba Budangiri), the 2nd highest peak in Karnataka, it was worth it, as it was a heavenly ride amidst the cloud-capped mountains, and from then on peddling became an addiction.
Subsequently, we prepared for tougher challenges and made trips through dense forests and tough mountain terrains like Agumbe, Charmadi ghats, Kudremukh forests and Nilgiris. These are the routes one would normally travel by car and I had never imagined one day I would cycle them. These beautiful journeys of exploring nature helped us explore and look within and made us strong physically and mentally.
In addition to the joy of peddling and getting fit, we learnt many life skills along the way. Team coordination, sufficing with bare facilities, time management, punctuality. …all reminding me of my school days. It was reinvigorating for my mind, body and soul in a way.
Our success and satisfaction pushed us to aim higher, metaphorically and also literally as we planned a cycling expedition to Manali-Leh-Khardung La mountain pass which is 17,582 ft. above sea level and one of the highest motorable roads. This route, Apart from its unique scenery, is a challenging and a dream route for every cycling enthusiast.
In preparation, vigorous training sessions were scheduled. The second lockdown had commenced which gave us time to dedicate our mornings for two months to yoga and cycling sessions. It was hectic, juggling training sessions with professional and domestic work. We had to sacrifice our personal and social life. We were excited about our trip but at the same time apprehensive about many issues and especially the vagaries of weather.
We left Mysuru on the 4th of August 2021 and started cycling from Manali on the 6th from an altitude of 6,730 ft and travelled a distance of 476 kms to Leh. Amidst the mighty Indian Himalayas, this highway goes through the lush green Kullu valley and the spectacular Plains flanked by mountains on both sides, with incredible 21 hairpin bends (called Gata Loops) and 5 high altitude Himalayan passes — Rohtang La, Baralacha La, Nakee La, Lachung La and Tanglang La — to reach Leh, which is at 11,562 ft. We had endured tough mountain terrain, extreme altitude, inclement weather and adapted to camping in tents and dhabas and were relieved to reach Leh on the 10th day. Each day was challenging and exhausting, but the successful completion of our targets for that day would give us a lot of satisfaction. This would charge us up for the next day.
The next day, the 38 kms ride to reach Khardung La from an altitude of 1,000 ft to 17,982 ft on the same day was difficult and steep. But in our excitement, we found everything enchanting and every experience worthy of the pain. In elevation, Khardung La is said to be the world’s second highest motorable Pass after Chisumle-Demchok Road via Umling La.
On our way back, only when we saw the steep mountains and roads with a less excited state of mind, did the enormity of our achievement dawn on us. The team had set its mind on peddling on the World’s first highest motorable road at 17,982 ft and succeeded through passion, patience and perseverance. Team leader Vinay Singh with his constant encouragement instilled faith in ourselves and helped us stay determined to finish. Of course, my fellow cyclists made the entire experience a memorable one… to be cherished for a lifetime.
But more importantly, it was also an introspective experience, one that made me feel our insignificance amongst nature, our capacity to overcome pain, ignore inconveniences and complete a talk fuelled just by passion. I never imagined my childhood’s simple act of joy, peddling, would one day help me rediscover myself and help me peddle my way to health and happiness.